Holly – Endurance – Wisdomkeeper of Evergreens (King of Wands)
Genus: Ilex – Family: Aquifoliaceae
Holly brings life and creativity during a difficult or challenging time. As an evergreen tree, it reminds us of the strength and endurance we already possess to overcome any obstacle in our path.
The genus name Ilex was originally the Latin name for evergreen oak, Quercus ilex, also known as holm (holly) oak. This interrelationship of holly and oak was based on the similar shape of their leaves and the fact that they share the same habitat. Unlike evergreen oaks, holly trees produce white blossoms in summer and red berries in winter. The contrast of the red berries against the waxy evergreen leaves became symbols of endurance during the long and difficult winter months.
European holly, Ilex aquifolium is a rugged species native to western and southern Europe, northwest Africa and southwest Asia. Holly was the sacred plant of Saturn (Roman god of harvest) sprigs were given at the festival of Saturnalia in December.
The archetypal battle of the Holly King versus the Oak King is seen as a metaphor for the ongoing cycle between winter and summer. The Holly as an evergreen tree symbolizes the undying nature of life during the dark days of winter while the oak as a deciduous tree symbolizes the fullness of life during the light days of summer. When the oak drops its leaves in fall, the enduring green leaves of holly become symbols of hope for the renewal of spring.
Holly is dioecious, meaning there are male and female trees. Both produce white blossoms but only the female tree produces the iconic red berries. The Druids of Celtic culture wore holly in their hair to ward off evil spirits. They also believed that a mistletoe found on an oak was a sacred plant of peace and protection. The holly is also intertwined with ivy as evergreen symbols of winter. The ivy, with it black berries, was seen as the Queen of the Holly King. During winter solstice parades girls dressed in ivy and boys in holly to symbolize how the forces of nature come together to birth new life in spring.
As Christianity spread throughout Europe holly became a traditional Christmas decoration that was referred to by the name “Christ’s thorn.” The relationship between holly and ivy now became associated with Jesus (holly) and the Virgin Mary (ivy.) The British Christmas carol The Holly and the Ivy weaves the old with the new.
In popular culture, Harry Potter’s wand is made of holly to help him on his spiritual quest as a symbol of luck, prosperity and protection.
Message: Holly reminds us to believe in ourselves and to connect with our inner strength as we move through difficult times in our life. By knowing that everything eventually comes full-circle we can see the potential that lies ahead. This is a time of positive action and endurance that will actually help us achieve a long-term goal.
Challenge: Being stuck in rut or seeking “quick fixes” that deplete our resources.